Data is all the rage nowadays. From Gannett’s Asbury Park Press’s DataUniverse to Roanoke’s DataSphere it seems as if every newspaper wants to have an online portion of their website devoted to showing off their data prowess.
But there is a problem with many of these sites. In addition to being what Matt Waite so entertainingly calls “Data Ghettos”, no one has figured out how to monetize them. As a result, the sites are not really designed with the readers or end-user in mind, and little to no thought goes into their longevity. What does go into these sites is a disproportionate amount of resources — money, staff and equipment.
What makes this situation even sadder is that many of these data sites, regardless of extensive their information is, are not even used by the reporters and editors at their own newspapers. I have colleagues, for example, at Gannett newspapers who say that they don’t go to their DataUniverse sites and will rather make a phone call or look up the information elsewhere.
So lets review, money and manpower is being invested to create and maintain these sites; advertisers are not attracted to them and are not purchasing ads on them; they are not used by their own staffs; and they are not even drawing a lot of traffic. Compete.com claims DataUniverse.com drew only 3,050 uniques for the month of November. Even if you disregard Compete’s “rough estimate”, one has to question the continued viability of these sites.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love data. I believe that newsrooms typically have way more data then they realize and that harnessing and organizing that data is key to newspapers being able to truly compete in the world of the 24-hour news cycle. But is this the best we can do? Really?
I think that we need to stop treating these sites simply as editorial sites. They are not some holy cow that can’t be touched by the revenue side of the business.
I think we need to approach the creation of data sites much as if they were verticals (you know, like our real estate or automotive sites). Yes there needs to be a place for content and discussion of user interface, but there needs to be an equal discussion of the revenue opportunities and the sites marketability.
Given the state of revenue at many newspapers, I don’t think we can continue investing in online products that stroke egos, provide little continued service to readers and brings in little to no additional revenue.